DTP Matters 21st Edition

Welcome to the 21st edition of the White Rose Social Sciences DTP newsletter; DTP Matters.

The White Rose Doctoral Training Partnership is the new name of the White Rose Doctoral Training Centre, which originally launched in November 2011. The White Rose DTP consists of 7 partner universities (read more)

This newsletter will be issued quarterly and includes NEWS AND EVENTS, TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES, PATHWAY NEWS, ESRC NEWS and FEEDBACK ON FEEDBACK. If you would like to submit an article for a future edition of DTP Matters or provide feedback on any of the featured articles, you can do so by emailing

WRDTP Welcome Event, 12 November 2018, University of Sheffield

On 12th November 2018, over 250 new doctoral researchers from the Universities of Bradford, Hull, Leeds, Manchester Metroplitan, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and York came together at the White Rose DTP Welcome Event at the University of Sheffield, for a full day of talks, networking and Pathway meetings.

This was the first all pathway WRDTP event of 2018/19 for social science doctoral researchers and forms part of a wide range of training events and courses offered to our post graduate research community.

The day began with a warm welcome from the Director of the WRDTP, Professor Ruth Blakeley, followed by an exercise looking at Impact in your Discipline that was lead by Professor Matthew Festenstein (University of York).

Katie Pruszynski concluded the first session with a talk on the importance of communication, and broadcasting your work into the wider world.

After a short break, Maria Mawson, the Social Science Faculty Librarian at the University of Sheffield Library, outlined the support the students could expect to receive from their respective university libraries. The next session titled ‘My experiences as a Doctoral Researcher,’ which proved very popular with our new researchers, focused on the personal experiences of some current WRDTP PhD students:

  • Tahir Abass, School of Law, University of Leeds
  • Anna Ta, Department of Economics, University of Sheffield
  • Mira Lieberman-Boyd, School of Management, University of Sheffield

During the lunch break time was set aside for networking and viewing the student Poster Exhibition entries.

This year’s winners:

First prizeGeorgia Thomas-Parr, University of Sheffield, School of East Asian studies: Shōjo in Crisis: Representing Japan Through the Girl

Runner-upSophie Phillips, University of Sheffield, Department of Education: The Importance of Researching Autistic Women’s Experiences of University

Runner-upAlice Kininmonth, University of Leeds, School of Psychology: Exploring the Impact of the Early Obesogenic Home Environment on Appetite and Weight in Childhood


After a break for lunch, the new students attended Pathway meetings; this was a chance to meet the Pathway Directors as well as other students in their Pathway and to start to plan networking/training activities for the coming year.

We really enjoyed welcoming you to the DTP social sciences research community and are already looking forward to seeing you again at our events throughout the year.

Impact in your discipline: Key takeaways from the Welcome Event Workshop

NEW Student Forum Email

NEW Student Forum Email

You can now contact the Student Forum via the new email address. The Student Forum are your representatives to the WRDTP, and can raise any queries you may have at the regular Student Forum meetings (dates listed here). We invite emails from both ESRC funded and non-ESRC funded students to discuss non-academic matters such as:
  • Organising cohort activities i.e. networking and social events, reading groups, writing groups etc.
  • Societies and inclusion i.e. formation of LGBT, women’s, parents or other networks.
  • Peer support and advocacy within your Pathway.
  • Training – if you see a gap in the training offered by the WRDTP or are interested in organising a student led conference, the Student Forum members can help.
If you are interested in receiving regular updates from the Student Forum, please sign up to the mailing list.

Farewell and good luck to Nicola Reilly, WRDTP Manager

After 8 years of service as WRDTC and then DTP manager, Nicola Reilly has left the University of Sheffield to start a new life in the South West of England. We would like to thank her for all her hard work and dedication to students and colleagues across the White Rose DTC and DTP, and wish her every happiness.

Optimising the Use of Scientific Evidence to Advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): An Insight from INGSA 2018

This is a report by George Asiamah, a Grantham PhD Scholar researching on Evidence-Informed Policymaking, from his experience at the International Network for Government Science Advice Biennial Conference (INGSA 2018), held in Tokyo-Japan, from 5-8 November, 2018.

Globally, there is a near-consensus among researchers and policy professionals alike on the need to enhance the use of scientific advice in policymaking. This has become even more pressing in recent years, in the quest to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, the rise in populism and loss of trust in institutions across countries, in the so-called “post-truth era”, has made both the demand and supply of scientific evidence challenging. The question now is, “how do we optimise the use of evidence in policymaking amidst the growing tension between populist politics and scientific evidence?”. It has therefore become expedient for global actors in policymaking to have systematic interaction and deliberation to enhance efficiency in the use of scientific evidence towards advancing the SDGs.

The International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) was established in 2014 to provide this collaborative platform for researchers, professionals, and practitioners to deliberate, share best practices, and attempt to find solutions to conundrums in the science-policy discourse. I was keen to attend this conference because of my interest to have a deeper understanding of “science for policy”, to hear different perspectives and viewpoints, and to participate in building consensus in advancing the SDGs.

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I began my journey to Tokyo on 3 November 2018 from Sheffield Station – where I met my PhD supervisor, Prof. James Wilsdon – and together we set off to Manchester Airport. From there, we had a two-hour layover in Helsinki, before finally arriving in Tokyo on 4 November. After an 18.5 hour journey, I was in a bit of a stupor, so just wanted to get to my hotel for a deep rest! That evening, James Wilsdon invited me to join the INGSA executive team for dinner. This was my first Japanese treat, so I went along with delight and excitement – although the jet-lag continued throughout my one week stay.

Rt. Hon. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Administrator of UNDP, gave the first keynote speech of the main conference. She spoke on the role of science advice in advancing the SDGs. She posited that the SDGs are a very ambitious agenda which should help to transform the prospects of people and the broader ecosystem, when implemented fully. She, however, admitted that there are enormous barriers standing on the way of their implementation. She cited the rise in entrenched poverty and hunger in the past three years, failure of economies to generate enough employment, the rise of vulnerable employment, and the high level of conflicts within countries as indications that the 2030 agenda will be unattainable without extraordinary efforts. She advised governments and policymakers to draw all knowledge and capacities on board, so as to make their decisions accordingly and also, rigorously evaluate, and monitor their outcomes.

Analysing the speeches and discussions from the various sessions, I identified the underlisted as the top seven integrants needed to enhance the use of scientific evidence – from global collaboration to local empowerment – towards achieving the UN SDGs. I have arranged my points into three main parts, the first two look at the framing of the research agenda; the third and fourth looks at enhancing the capacity for the supply; and finally, the fifth to the seventh looks at enhancing the capacity to linkage and the demand for scientific evidence.

  1. Integrated thinking: One of the key challenges scientist face in this changing world, as described by Professor Matthias Kaiser, is “the holistic challenge”. The world faces intertwined challenges, to the extent that, a solution to problem in one sector becomes a source of trouble to the other. This calls for systematic and integrated thinking in attempt to address any challenge. In the context of the SDGs, these goals could be seen as an encapsulation of all the major socio-economic and environmental challenges confronting humanities. This packaging of the SDGs makes them complex, and difficult to achieve concurrently. It is therefore important to take a holistic approach in order to have a broader understanding of interrelatedness, so as to identify synergies and interactions among different goals. This has become crucial because of the danger of leading to conflicting goals when we approach each goal distinctively. Addressing these challenges, the first solution is the call for interdisciplinarity, not necessarily, multidisciplinarity. This is the call for an approach which includes co-designing and co-production of knowledge across disciplines – both natural, physical and social sciences as well as humanities. This is crucial in identifying the synergies and trade-offs right at the onsite of the project, thereby helping in devising strategies that will help to optimise the benefits which the SDGs seek to achieve. There should also be a coherent multi-stakeholder action involving all the other organs of governments, the private sector and the various groups of civil society organisations, in co-production and co-implementation of policy actions. This, in the long, will allow co-benefits to be identified and leveraged.
  1. Shifting the Centre of Gravity of Research: Transforming the SDGs, as global level thinking to regional and national levels, calls for a bottom-up approach: to engage in the use of local authorities, civil society organisations as well as science communities at various local levels –who have broader understanding of the socio-cultural setting of their various communities. This will help in design and framing of the research that situates itself in the needs of the indigenes. Further, the locus of the research should be shifted to where the problem actually occurs – i.e. to make research occur locally. By this it becomes easier to get the broader picture on the ground, as well as getting meaningful outcomes that can be feed into national policies.
  1. Equip Scientists and Researchers: Needless to say, equipping scientist is one integral component to help the scientific community to produce a sound and credible research that could feed into policymaking stream. Aside provision of funds, there should also be the presence of infrastructures that facilitates scientific studies as well as provision of regular training and capacity building programs that enhance their ability to produce viable results. Unfortunately, this facilities and infrastructures are not present in most countries, especially, in the global south. This, of course, is a challenge to the supply of scientific evidence, and thereby leads to a gap in the science-policy discourse. Bridging this gap, there is the need to advocate for a coherent policy for science at all levels, as well as provision of resources necessary for scientific research. There is also a need to build local, regional and international networks.
  1. Collaboration and Networking – Building on the aforementioned point of enhancing the capacity of scientist and researchers, collaboration and networking is one crucial thing that helps. Networking helps local researchers to enhance their knowledge niche through the sharing of ideas from experts from different geographical regions. This is, especially, important for young scientists to learn from the experiences of seniors in their fields. Also bringing in the implementation of the SDGs – the catchphrase is “Think Local, and Act Global”. As Professor Daya Reddy put it, “as a global community we have to adopt inclusive approach in addressing the SDGs”. With this in mind, there is the need to recognise that, countries vary significantly in terms of their robustness, maturity of science systems, and the capacity to exploit scientific knowledge. This in turn affects their ability to participate fully in the global scientific ecosystem. Science collaboration, diplomacy and networking becomes crucial to help vulnerable and marginalised communities to benefit and contribute to global scientific system, and also, help provide credible evidence to support policies at both, local and global level.
  1. Understanding the position of the science community: The key thing the scientific community need to remember is that, “science does not and cannot make policies, but only informs it” (Sir Peter Gluckman). In this context, it is also important to recognise that scientific result is just a part of the myriad of considerations in the political decision process. Nonetheless, knowing the essence of science and scientific evidence in policymaking – i.e. there is no single issue affecting the social, environmental and the economic wellbeing of the people, where science does not play a part – the science community should understand their role, which is to provide robust evidence to support the policymaking at each stage on the policy cycle. They also need to, on simple and concise terms, make policymakers understand the value of each evidence they produce, and the implications of each policy options they have on the table. Navigating this interface requires a great sense of leadership and diplomatic skills, which the scientific community needs to build on.

  1. The Need for the Science Community to Maintain Trust and Credibility: One of the major problems scientist face in providing evidence to inform policy, is the pragmatic challenge – i.e. the differences in expectations and demands from policymakers and the scientific process. Whiles policymakers want simplified and quick solutions, scientists on the hand, take more time to consider myriad of factors and sometimes, may not provide straight forward solutions. There is therefore the temptation for the scientist community to make sweeping statements and sometimes, false claims. But to maintain effective link between science and policy interface, there is the need for Scientist/Advisors to stand robust and remain credible both to the Politicians and the Science Community. By this, Scientists need to be more sophisticated, especially in dealing with post-normal science – where states are high, facts are uncertain and decisions urgent – in order to meet the growing demand of evidence and still remain credible. In the context of SDGs, for instance, scientist can be more proactive, and engage in the use of global composite indicators at the local level, and provide relevant and engaging narratives.
  1. Public Engagement and Empowerment: This means the context of science advice should not disregard the public stake. This is because policymakers are also part of the broader society, and as such, their views are influenced by sentiments from the society. Moreover, politicians often resort to public opinions and perception more in their decision making process for short-term political gains. The challenge to the science community therefore goes beyond providing evidence to policymakers, but also, promoting better understanding among the general public; this is to say, science advice and public engagement should go hand-in-hand.

To sum it all, INGSA 2018 was hugely valuable to me, not only for my PhD project, but also for my longer term career development. The knowledge and the experience I acquired were enormous, as were the networking opportunities to engage with senior researchers and practitioners in my field.

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Siti Soroya Lin binti Abdullah Kamal, University of Sheffield PhD research student, on attending the recent Sheffield Institute of Education Conference at Sheffield Hallam University

I decided to attend the Sheffield Hallam University Doctoral Conference at Sheffield Institute of Education after receiving an email confirming that I could bring my newborn with me. Thankfully she was an angel throughout the session thus allowing me to peacefully participate in the event. Held on 24th of November 2018, the conference began with a welcoming speech followed by parallel sessions of oral presentations from diverse topics under the theme of ‘doctoral journey’. The attendees also had the opportunity to view multiple fascinating posters during lunch time. The first presentation that I attended was by Professor Guy Merchant titled Travelling with Theory. The topic was insightful as he offered views on how theories work in a research The takeaway points that I received are that theory is used to explain the phenomenon of a study, researchers do not necessarily have to use big names for the theory utilised in the study and researchers can employ any models (even if they are simple and small) and expand them in-order to make a contribution to academia. Three types of theory are mentioned, namely theory driven (to start a study with a theory), theory generation (to produce theory which is grounded in the data) and theory building (to expand the work of others’) which are all acceptable for a doctoral study.

Another presentation that I listened to and found helpful was a talk by Rachel Stone who discussed the experience she gained from embracing her doctoral journey. She explained about how she formulated her research questions and how the research question evolved over time upon reflection. She also discovered that she needed to let go some of her preconceptions and become immersed in the data that she obtained and re explore the literature and her own thoughts to get the whole picture about her study. As a third year PhD student who just got over my baby blue moods I am truly grateful that I was able to attend this conference with my baby. Having a chance to talk to like-minded people in a supportive environment made me feel rejuvenated and motivated to get on with my work and thrive in my learning trajectories.

Alice Welsh, University of York, CDD Pathway student writes about her experience on a recent Overseas Institutional Visit to Glendon College, York University, Toronto, Canada

During the summer last year, I received the Overseas Institutional Visit (OIV) funding from WRDTP to take up the opportunity to visit Glendon College, York University in Toronto and work on my research into multi-level citizenship, with the EU as my focus.

So, in September 2018, I packed my bags and left for 3 months in Canada. The opportunity to take my research to a new university was beneficial in many different ways. Firstly, I was able to discuss my research with academics at Glendon College leading to further research into multi-level citizenship and free movement in other countries with federal systems. This allowed me to consider my own work in a new light, as where hurdles exist for free movement across the EU, different and similar barriers may arise in the free movement between Canadian provinces or US states. This new perspective allowed me to approach certain chapters from a more nuanced and engaging angle.

Alongside this I was able to present and discuss my work during a public lecture and attend several events and talks from other academics. This included a film screening of ‘Brexitania’ which gave me an insight into some of the international perspectives on my research area. The OIV also given me the opportunity to take part in a panel at an upcoming International conference later this year. Needless to say, the stay at a new university also gave me access to a wealth of new resources from the libraries in the city.

Separate from my research, it is also important to reflect on how the opportunity to live and work abroad for 3 months was incredibly valuable and exciting. During my time in Toronto I tried to do and see as much as I could fit in, including the usual tourist spots, seeing hockey games, attending gigs for bands who less frequently travelled over to the UK and taking a train out to the beautiful and spectacular Niagara Falls to mention a few! Overall, The OIV has been one of the most worthwhile and memorable moments of the PhD programme which has contributed to the research and PhD experience which I can’t recommend enough.

Rebecca Newman, University of York, CEL Pathway student reports back on her Difficult Language Training experience in Tanzanir and Zanzibar

For my study I am researching how drivers of change within small islands is affecting local communities using a case study of Zanzibar. The research uses a social science approach and focuses on methods including semi-qualitative interviews and focus groups. The local language in Zanzibar is Swahili and there are no tribal languages within the archipelago. To be able to build professional relationships and show respect for the culture in Zanzibar it was important to be able to learn to language. Therefore, I applied for the language extension to the PhD program – lasting 6 months – so that I could immerse myself in the culture and develop basic to intermediate level communication skills.

Salamas family and me during my village stay

First, I travelled to Arusha in mainland Tanzania and took a course with Peter at the Overland Project centre. These lessons were one-to-one and really very useful for developing a core understanding of the language. Here I learnt basic phrases and words, how to conjugate the verb and how to construct simple sentences. The first few weeks of learning the language was challenging and I felt like I was learning from memory a lot and having to revise a lot for things to transfer to memory. But Peter was very patient and was very skilful in crossing back to previous teachings and bringing learnt concepts into new lessons.

After I finished this course I travelled to Stonetown in Zanzibar and began one-to-one lessons with Mama Amina through an organisation called World Unite. These lessons took place at her kitchen table in a busy street in Stonetown, there were neighbours passed by often and calling “Mambo”, “Habari Yako” “Mzima” and “Hujambo” though the netted window or popping in to borrow salt, pepper, sugar, chilli – or pass on news from the day. Through the lessons with Mama Amina my vocabulary range began to increase, I started to make more complex sentences using different tenses. Within lessons activities would range from written exercises, reading or relaying stories and word games – but much of the lessons centred on
conversations in Swahili and asking or responding to questions. Through these lessons I began to learn not only how to speak in Swahili but also about how people in Zanzibar like to communicate – and especially the importance of greetings and framing things positively.

After gaining these skills I went onto do a homestay in a local village on the coast to practice speaking. I found that I was understanding more and more but my pace of interpreting and responding was slow. Gradually I made friends in the village, who were all more than happy to help me practice. They showed a lot of patience, but also every day pushed me to learn more and would continue conversations in Swahili
until I stumbled – at that point they would teach me something new! I finished the end of the 6 months by returning to Stonetown and having some final lessons with Mama Amina to revise what we had covered over the last year.

Overall the whole experience of learning Swahili was incredible, it allowed me to get to know Zanzibar through different eyes, opened me up to culture and gave me communication skills which will help me in my fieldwork.

If you are an ESRC funded student and think that your PhD studies would benefit from learning a native language, please visit the VIRE: Difficult Language Training page for more information (please note you will need to be logged in to the VIRE to follow this link).

Georgia Thomas-Parr, University of Sheffield, ECY Pathway student on her ongoing research and use of RTSG top-up funds awarded in 2018 as part of the ESRC RTSG top-up scheme.

My research project is interested in ‘fangirls’ (between the ages of 11 and 30) who have an interest in Japanese culture and media (such as anime and manga). From September 2017 to June 2018 I undertook pilots and initial studies as part of my first year of fieldwork, which would not have been possible without the Research Training Support Grant Top-Up. Anime conventions are spaces where fans can meet and share their interests in anime, manga, Japanese media and otherwise. So far, my fieldwork has been conducted at a variety of anime conventions across the UK, from which I have been able to engage in multiple participant observations, meet potential interview candidates and conduct over 30 interviews. As I am on the 1+3 programme, following the Masters year (during which I submitted a project proposal and gained ethical permission to conduct research), I was able to use the first year of my PhD as a time to practice my ethnographic skills as a researcher as well as collecting data towards my thesis. Now in my second year, I am so grateful to have had the space of my first year to grow and I am now refining my approach during the final stages of my data collection.

The money from the Top-Up has been used towards my travel, accommodation and entry to conventions across the country, reaching as far as Plymouth and Glasgow. As well as this, I have been able to undertake advanced training for research involving children, of which my project, situated in the field of Girlhood Studies, is interested in the experiences of adolescence in young people and how it might relate to their interest in Japan.

Another area of my research also observes the phenomenon of Japanese-style maid cafes that exist (and are becoming increasingly popular) in the UK, where I have been taking part in participant observations by becoming a maid myself. Constructing one’s identity as a kawaii (‘cute’) maid is no cheap or easy task; as well as my other expenses, I was able to put the Top-Up towards a dress, accessories and, characteristic to the cosplayer, a bright and colourful wig(!) As I continue to learn throughout my PhD, being able to use the Research Training Support Grant and Top-Up has proved invaluable to my research and journey as a researcher, of which I have the ESRC to thank for their generosity.

To find out more about the RTSG Top-up Scheme, it’s uses and how to apply for this funding, please visit the VIRE: RTSG Top-up Scheme page of the website (please note that you will need to be logged in to the VIRE to follow this link).

Compulsory training for ESRC funded students

Please keep checking the Training and Events page of the website for upcoming training. Throughout the year there are several training events which are compulsory for ESRC funded students to attend. Links to upcoming compulsory training can be found below.

Advanced Qualitative Methods (AQUALM) Taster Day

Friday 10th May 2019, time to be confirmed

University of Leeds

Book your place


WRDTP Annual Conference 2019

This year’s WRDTP Annual Conference will be held on June 19 2019 at the University of Leeds. Details regarding the Conference themes, speakers and activities will be released in May. Keep an eye on the Training & Events page for further details and your chance to book your place.

Accessing training resources through the VIRE

Where possible, the training events organised by the WRDTP will be available as recorded lectures (via lecture capture) in the VIRE shortly after the training has occurred. There are also several areas within the VIRE dedicated to training resources such as presentation slides, suggested reading etc. which you can access at any time.

If you are unsure of how to access the VIRE area of the website please contact your HEI Link administrator, who will be able to give you a username and password.

Society Now Magazine – latest issue (issue 33 – winter 2018)

The new edition of Society Now magazine is now available either as a printed magazine, or as a downloadable pdf. Society Now is the ESRC’s quarterly magazine, bringing the latest and most topical social science research to key opinion formers in business, government and the voluntary sector.

Both the print and pdf editions are completely free! To find out how to order or download your copy, visit the ESRC website.

ESRC Student Survey

Thank you to all of the ESRC funded students who completed last years student survey.

The ESRC developed a Student Survey to help inform them about the experience of both their Masters students and doctoral researchers.  The results of the survey will form part of the supporting evidence for the Mid-term Review Exercise (MRE) of the DTPs which will take place this year.

The ESRC gathered 531 survey responses across the 21 DTP’s within it’s scope. A summary of the findings can be found below.

Which subject are you in or most closely aligned to?

Supervision arrangements

Training and Development

DTP Support

Non-academic Partners

Cohort Building

Facilities and Wellbeing

Meet the current ESRC Postdoctoral Fellows

You can find out more about our current Postdoctoral Fellows by visiting the new page under ‘Who we are’ on the website or by following this link.

Dr Ellie Gore

Dr Sonja Erikainen

Dr Jim Kaufman

Dr Emilee Rauschenberger

Dr Charlotte Hoole

Dr Jingzhi Chen

Dr Rosie Campbell OBE

Applications for the 2019/2020 Postdoctoral Fellowship competition have now been entered and are awaiting assessment. If you are interested in applying for a Postdoctoral Fellowship the 2020/2021 award cycle will be announced in January 2020.